two different scenarios – catching your girlfriend/boyfriend having passionate sex with another person, or finding out
that your girlfriend/boyfriend is madly in love with another person. Which scenario would be more shocking? The answer may
depend on whether the question is presented to a male or female. According to a study published in the Psychological Science (1992) by David M. Buss, Randy J. Larsen, Drew Westen, and Jennifer Semmelroth, males and
females react differently to jealousy, and those differences can be both psychological and physiological.
is the state of mind that arises when there is a perceived threat to a sexual relationship between and an individual is motivated
to counter the threat. Theories about jealousy are based on the idea that when mammals produce offspring, it is the males’
goal to impregnate as many mates as possible while preventing other rival males from mating with his partner in order to spread
his genetic code. It is the females’ goal to find a reliable mate to help take care of the offspring. From this concept,
the University of Michigan researchers hypothesized and tested the idea that males and females will react differently to acts
research is significant because it was the first experiment to verify gender differences in reaction to infidelity. While
there are gender stereotypes classifying women as more emotional and men as more physical, the more significant finding is
the fact that there are measurable physiological differences that can be induced in males and females.
Buss et al. performed experiments on a test pool
of undergraduate students to determine the effects of sexual jealousy on the psychology and physiology of males and females.
In the first part of the experiment, which involved over 200 students, the test subjects were given two scenarios and asked
to choose which scenario would be more distressing to them. They were asked to answer two such questions.
your partner forming a deep emotional attachment to [another]
(B). Imagining your partner enjoying passionate
sexual intercourse with [another] person.
your partner falling in love with [another] person.
your partner trying different sexual positions with [another]
In both cases,
the percentage of males who chose option (A), the scenario that represents sexual infidelity, was significantly greater than
the percentage of females who chose it. As many as 60% of the males reported choice (A) as more distressing. In contrast,
the results differed greatly for the choices made by females. The females reported as high as 88% that option (B) for the
emotional infidelity was more upsetting.
The second part of the experiment tested the
physiological response that imaged scenarios of sexual and emotional infidelity would cause on males and females. The responses
were tested in three different ways: by measuring the amount of sweat produced, the pulse rate, and the activity level of
the muscle in the brow region, which becomes stimulated when a person is distressed. Jealousy was induced in the test subject
by asking him/her to imagine a scenario where his/her lover, imagined or real, was having sexual intercourse with another
person. The test subject was then asked to imagine a different scenario where his/her lover falling in love with another person.
males and females had different physiological responses to the two different kinds of infidelity. The results showed that
men had a greater sweat level, pulse rate, and muscle activity during the sexual imagery than women, whereas women had a greater
physiological response for the emotional imagery. Through these measurements, Buss et al. were able to measure exactly how
distressed the subjects were in response to thoughts of infidelity. The significance is in the fact that the scientists were
able to quantify an emotional reaction into measurable data values.
these results strongly support the hypothesis of gender differences in jealousy, Buss et al. admitted that there are many
factors that must be considered before any conclusions can be made. They suggested that the increased arousal during sexual
imagery for men may have resulted from the fact that men are simply more stimulated by thoughts of sex, regardless of whether
it involves jealousy or not. Another thought to consider was whether the results will generalize into other cultures and age
groups. Ultimately, the research offered a glimpse into the subtle but significant differences between the male and female
mind in response to sex and emotions.
David M., Randy J. Larson, Drew Westen, and Jennifer Semmelroth. 2000.
Differences in Jealousy: Evolution, Physiology, and Psychology. Psychological
Science 4: 251-255.